The company was founded in 1875 as a percussion manufacturer. One of the oldest existing models of drums manufactured by Sonor is a 1942 Johannes Link Parade Snare, a very heavy snare drum with an alumininum shell and thick tension rods.
In the 1980s, Sonor's tagline was "The Rolls of drums". The drums were made very thick (13 mm) and heavy shells that were beech wood, with an innermost and outermost ply of furniture-grade veneers, such as rosewood and bubinga. Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden was one of the most prominent Sonor artists of the 1980s, along with Steve Smith of Journey, Phil Rudd of AC/DC, Thomas Haake of Meshuggah and jazz legend Jack DeJohnette.
Sonor invented the modern screw thread drum-construction and the metal snare drum in the early 20th century. William F. Ludwig got this idea in his early years back in Germany from Sonor and began to use it later in Chicago.
As the 1980s progressed, the market began to stray away from thick heavy shells and Sonor started slimming down its shells with a line called "Sonorlite" and "Hilite", a step away from the idea a drum shell should resonate like a violin or guitar body. The thinner the shell, the lower the fundamental tone.
Sonor drums have several design features, including under-sized shells (a similar concept to a violin bridge - designed to enhance response), and tension rods that are round and feature a slot instead of the traditional square style (though recently Sonor made square heads standard, with slotted heads available as an option). Recently, Sonor re-introduced the designer X-Ray Acrylic drums, the first time in 20 years Sonor offered acrylic drums. These shells are made from seamless, extruded acrylic and feature acrylic hoops.
Current Sonor artists include long-time AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd, Mikkey Dee of Motörhead; Christoph Schneider of Rammstein, Danny Carey of Tool; Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree; Ken Serio a New York session and touring drummer; Adam Nussbaum; jazz drummer, jazz legend Jack DeJohnette; Steve Smith; Joe Winters of The Steepwater Band; Jojo Mayer, New York City session drummer, clinician, and drummer for drum-and-bass project NERVE; Rob Rivera of Nonpoint; James Knox of The Business; Billy freedom of Queen Adreena-Black Orchid Empire and many more.
In 1953, the Orff instruments were officially included in Sonor’s production plan. In close collaboration with Prof. Hans Bergese, a student of Carl Orff, Sonor developed a range of instruments. The basic idea was that the instruments should grow with the mental abilities and playing techniques of the child, thus encouraging active music making.